Never forsaken, never forgotten.

Ever feel like you’re being squeezed? Between a rock and a hard place? Stuck in the middle? Or any other metaphor for just simply going through a rubbish time? Yes…me too…especially at the moment.

The details aren’t important, but last week after a few days of (unsuccessfully) navigating my way through things, stuff came to a head on Sunday. I woke up, looking forward to church a lot, but still aware of Doom & Gloom hovering nearby.

I come from a long line of good old- fashioned girl troopers – we never let a case of the doom & glooms stop us from moving forward – but I still heard myself say out loud, ‘Lord, I could really do with some help here’.

It’s not always this instantaneous but on Sunday it was, clear as a bell; ‘Read Psalm 119’.

So I did and here’s the bits that jumped out at me;

“I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse! Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember? Help me understand these things inside and out so I can ponder your miracle-wonders. (Psalm 119:25)”

And then the clincher – a similar nudge to read Psalm 115, which starts with a graphic picture of idols; they don’t have ears so they cannot hear, their mouths are painted so they cannot speak….but no, no, no, NOT like OUR God….He sees, He hears, He speaks.

It ends with this gorgeous thought;

“He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, Seats them among the honoured guests, a place of honour among the brightest and best.

But you, put your trust in God ! Trust your Helper! Trust your Ruler! Clan of Aaron, trust in God ! Trust your Helper! Trust your Ruler! You who fear God, trust in God ! Trust your Helper! Trust your Ruler!”

Hope started to rise – not hope for anything specific, but just hope that God would come through. He hears, He sees and He speaks.

Later that night, I drove over to a friend’s house and despite the hope of those amazing verses, I had another honest chat with God on the way. I was waiting at some lights and said out loud, ‘I’d love it if you could speak to me tonight….that’d be great.’

And so, S and I walked into church and they sang a song I’d not heard before; Not for a moment, not for a moment…did you forsake me’ and the whole theme of the service was on God’s promises, His enduring faithfulness, His utter reliability, even when we can’t see or feel Him.

As I listened to the preach, it was like God was saying; ‘That’s what I wanted you to hear….’

All in all, a pretty amazing response to an early morning prayer of ‘Lord, you’ll have to help me out here’.

So, what’s the score and point of all this? My summing up is a mix-match of lots of thoughts…but principally this; if you’re being squeezed, don’t give up. Hang on. Throw everything at God, be honest, involve Him in every detail….and ask, ask, ask (again and again) for help.

And if that doesn’t work; Rinse and Repeat. Rinse and Repeat. Till it does.

I believe and know He’s a real life God who has ears, eyes and a mouth that speaks. Even if our situations never change, even if we can’t hear or see Him, not for a single moment does He forsake us…just like the song says…

I wish to complain (in a non-complaining sort of way…)

A few months ago, I was driving through Manchester one Sunday night (dad in the passenger seat) when we stopped at some lights. And there suddenly in front of us was a HUGE billboard – emblazoned with just one word. I’ll not tell you what the word was, except that (to me, at least) it’s ugly and offensive.

Dad spluttered slightly and there was a momentary silence, while we tried to work out what message the billboard was trying to convey.

In the end, we concluded it was designed to be a shock tactic, but even hours later, I was still irritated by it. I googled (with some trepidation) and discovered it was advertising a ‘bold’ energy drink.

‘Bold and classy’ said the website.

Whatever.

Anyway, I’m not one for petitions and complaining to government departments, but the more I read on their website, the more annoyed I felt. So, feeling a little like one of those indignant complaining types, (which I’m not) I hammered out a complaint to the Powers-That-Be (also known as the ASA).

I didn’t really know what to say, but tried to explain that I wasn’t really annoyed that the product existed or that it had an offensive name. I was more annoyed that a ‘bold’ advert had the power to figuratively burst into my car with its nasty language and create an awkward, embarrassing moment between my passengers and I.

In my view, that is not ok. That is way beyond what an advert should be able to do.

And as it turned out, the ASA took it seriously too – I found out this week that 144 other people also objected, the complaint was upheld and the ad can’t be used again in its current form.

You could argue that this ‘suppression’ of the drink’s advert will only drive more people to the product. Maybe it will! But, I still wanted to say, ‘Hey…I don’t like that’ and feel like someone heard me.

And it was heard. It reminded me that sometimes, ordinary citizens DO have a voice.

If we pick our battles wisely, and exercise grace, perhaps we CAN make a difference?

P.s if you really want to know what the ad was about, here’s the ruling.

There must be more than this…

If I could sum up my week in one sentence, it would be; There must be more than this.

Before anyone thinks I’m clinging to a cliff-edge, I’m not (phew!)…lemme explain.

I’m super fortunate to work where I do. I love that if we have someone filming in the building, that it’s ok to down tools and go and watch/listen.

One of this week’s speakers was Simon Foster, a guy who at one point represented Ireland at Eurovision, was big time into show business. His story is one of freedom from abuses, a life he didn’t want and many other things – he’s now married with a daughter, working as a pastor in Bristol.

His theme was that we’ve lost sight of Jesus. We can be SO caught up in life and conflict and stresses, that we struggle to see things in the radical way Jesus did/does. The only reason he knows is because he lived in a world that hated the church and all it stood for. People in his circle were genuinely gasping for a spiritual drink…but at church? Nah…not a chance. Why would you go to church, to only be judged?

Simon reached his absolute lowest point…and then, he found Jesus.

Yesterday, as if to smack me round the chops further, I finally got round to watching a short film on YouTube by Dan Baumann. My dad emailed me a version, earlier in the week and it took me till Thursday, to finally get around to watching it. Dan is a guy who was imprisoned in Iran and after reaching his ultimate low (and trying to kill himself in his cell) had a vision of Jesus which changed his life forever.

The theme again….more, more…there MUST be more than this.

Both of these chaps told stories about an encounter with Jesus which changed everything, changed the way they thought, loved, lived…it all became about Jesus; the Mighty Lion Aslan, the one who dies, moves stones and comes back to life, the one raises the dead, who forgives the worst sinners, who heals and restores… all without barely batting an eyelid.

But, the truth is…He’s not always easily found. The uncomfortable truth is that to really (and I mean really find Him, I’ve got to come to the end of myself. There’s got to be no place else left to go.

Dan Baumann says that all of life is about intimacy – everything we go through is about getting closer to Jesus. And when we do, we learn this massive lesson, there IS more than this…so much, much more.

Please take 10 minutes to watch Dan’s story. If you’re anything like me, it’ll change the way you think.

A horrible dream…

I had a really busy day yesterday and ended it at the gym, determined to take out my stresses on the poor old treadmill, rather than take them home.

Exercise, in a weird way, is a bit like worship to me. I plug myself into my iPod and get lost in the moment. Sometimes I think, sometimes I pray, though lots of times I mostly just sweat like a wildebeast and whine for 24 hours about how ‘everythiiiiiinnnngggggg hurts’.

But I digress, because yesterday there were a couple of pressing situations in my head and I found myself asking God, ‘Lord, where ARE you in all of this….how come I can’t see what you’re doing??’

No answer.

Went home, ate dinner, yacked on the phone for ages and I finally fell into bed, headfirst into a really horrible dream.

I was all tangled up in a thick, sleeping bag and an evil force was sitting on top of me, trying to shove the sleeping bag down my throat. I was fighting to get away and kept hearing this weird voice say, ‘We’re going to kill her…we’re going to kill her’. 

I lay stock still (in the dream) figuring that playing dead might help, but as soon as I wriggled, the shoving and suffocating started again. In my head was this thought, ‘if I can call out to Jesus, this will go away…’ But the ‘force’ prevented me from talking and I couldn’t get out a word.

I woke up, seconds later, gasping and *just* managing to hurl out the words, ‘Jesus…HELP’.

I’m not one for getting ‘spooked’ but this was SO vivid, I felt a bit rattled. Took a few deep breaths as I fully emerged into consciousness and looked at my phone to see what time it was; 3.10am. 

In an attempt to orient myself again with the real world, I clicked on the Facebook app and this was the first thing that appeared (took a screenshot, first thing when the alarm went off this morn, to prove it!!)

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It just reminded me (because it CAN be easy to forget) that life IS a battle, often against things we cannot see.

We can ask God where He is in a situation, but sometimes, things occur not because He isn’t there, but because you’re coming face to face with evil.

I was always taught to believe that when this happens, be encouraged. If the devil’s got you on his ‘person of interest’ list, that’s a GOOD thing.

I’d rather not be half-suffocated in a sleeping bag, but I woke up feeling oddly up-beat.

At least I know who wins in the end.

The craziness of God’s plan…

Tonight, nestled in the postbox was a red, white and blue airmail envelope. I knew instantly who it was from – my long, lost pal Sonya, who lives and works on the Thai/Burma border.

I met Sonya about 8 years ago. As things do, we just clicked and over time, we had lots of great chats about love, life, the universe and where our lives were headed.

Sonya also often talked about the Karen people; political refugees on the Thai/Burma border. She’d read something about them and a strange thing happened in her heart….she just wanted to help. But, she couldn’t just pack in her job and head to an un-known country, could she?

No experience, no money, few contacts and yet, despite it all not long after, Sonya was off. She took the biggest risk of her life, gave up her job and house and raced after a dim but certain calling.

It was an insane time – I went to visit her in Chaing Mai and we had a great week of chats, elephant rides and amazing food, but for Sonya at least, despite having taken a huge leap of faith, something was missing. Had she made the right choice in going? What was God doing? Had she imagined the whole thing?

And then the fuzzy jigsaw pieces began to fit into place.

One day in the refugee camp, Sonya’s eyes locked with those of Tah Doh Moo; a widower, refugee and from all accounts, an amazing, lovely man.

Soon, they were married and today, Sonya is mum to 4 step children and 2 children of their own. She and Tah Doh Moo are serving God in the camps, taking in medical supplies and Tah Doh Moo has just been elevated to the Executive Committee of the Karen National Union – making him one of the top 11 leaders for the Karen people.

And to think, it all started with something Sonya read somewhere, and a little gem of a desire began to unfurl in her life.

This shouts so loudly to me of God’s goodness – that even when we think He is silent or He leads us down a strange path, He’s still there, still working all things together for MY good.

This is a God who simply, never fails.

There’s no point in going to Church….

…is there?

Last year, I decided I really needed to put down some roots and get myself a church home.

Seems like fairly basic stuff, I know, but life circumstances, lots of travelling etc, had left me hanging as a bit of a spiritual wanderer. I always went, just not consistently, to the same place, each week. I figured I was getting spiritually fed, so did it really matter if I wasn’t seen at the same place, by the same people, every week?

As it happens, yes it does. But I had to put down some roots to find out why.

I was chatting to a friend last week. She and I are theologically (roughly) on the same page but how our faith is expressed, is radically different. She’ll veer toward bells and smells, whereas I’m more partial to a bit of enthusaistic arm waving. We were chatting about the difference in Communion style and for me, as a fairly recent adoptee into Anglicanism, I said how much I enjoyed actually getting out of my seat and walking up to the Altar, to receive the bread and wine.

‘Yes’, said friend….’there is something quite profound about being served communion by someone who knows you…’

And that suddenly made sense. That’s what church for me, at least, is all about.

It’s about being known. It’s about being able to ‘tell all’ to your church leaders, to have friends, share stuff, have meals together, ask questions, to miss a service and get calls from people asking if you’re ok. It’s about being missed.

Sure, you can probably be spiritually fed in other ways and maybe even survive as a Christian outside of the church, but you miss the amazing part of being part of a community.

On Sunday, we had Communion and my friend’s words were ringing in my ears as I walked up to the Altar. It’s about knowing and being known.

And there’s no better place to be really known, really loved, than in the safe place of a stable church, which genuinely loves people.

There’s no point in going to church???

I beg to differ.

good,bad and ugly

To an un-named friend….

Been thinking this week about friendship and how grateful I am for the friendships where I can be totally honest, real and (if the mood should strike), completely and utterly ridiculous too.

And that, pretty much sums up my 27-year-long friendship with Un-named Friend, who’s been there through all the highs, lows and the many middle bits too.

We first met at school, aged 11. My version of the story is that she was Queen Bee, very popular with all and loved by the boys. I arrived at school, culturally inept but with an American accent which instantly catapulted me to ‘star attraction’ status in the playground at break time. The kids would gather round me and demand I utter words like ‘yoghurt’ in my lovely twang.

Unnamed Friend (UF) and I had an uneasy start – but we soon became inseperable and did it all; school days, school plays, school lunches, church, sleepovers – we even got a job working in the same shop together on Saturdays.

We would sit in my room as kids, write ridiculous church songs together (I could play D, C and Em on the guitar, so I was a musical genius), scribble love letters to boys we fancied, play practical jokes on each other, swoon over film stars, fall out, fall back in again and somehow, managed to get through the painful business of adolesence, without too many scars.

She was my confidante on the night of my first ever official ‘date with a boy’. I was so shockingly nervous, I could barely speak. She was 3 months older and therefore considerably wiser in the Ways of Men. Her advice of, ‘You don’t have to kiss him, if you don’t want to’, ringing in my ears, I somehow managed to survive that awful, cringe-worthy night. For the record, I didn’t. (kiss him!)

Fast forward to later years, we moved through university, heartbreaks, student debt, first house-shares, faith crises, more first kisses and later, a wedding, babies, bereavement and other things in-between.

But for UF and I, despite the ups and downs of life, nothing much has changed. When we get together, (like last night), we’re still just 11 years old, strumming an out-of-tune guitar and laughing like drains at something incredibly stupid we did at school.

UF has been there all the way – it’s not just the laughs, but the really bad times too.  And she too has weathered some pretty horrific storms over the years, so our conversations are sometimes a mixture of laughing, with pauses for sadness, remembering, tears and more. You can’t beat a lifelong shared history with someone else.

So, Un-named Friend – I salute you! I think you’re strong, brave and one-in-a-million.

Thank you for being my friend.

My mum is amazing…

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my amazing dad.  On Monday, it is my mum’s birthday, so it seems only right to honour Mum for all her coolness and general amazingness too.

Where to start?  

In my old job, I travelled lots.  Every month or two and  I was packing a case and off to some far flung place, with a camera crew in tail;  Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Vietnam, Armenia, Albania, Thailand and more.

Sounds amazing but it was actually really hard work – long days, language barriers and sometimes field accomodation, in sheets that had probably seen more than a few occupants. 

And there, I drag you back to the present, because see, my mum has a bit of a fixation with clean sheets.   When she discovered that I was sleeping in conditions she’d hate, she set about creating me a ‘travel kit’, which included a double duvet soaked in the smell of ‘home’ (i.e extra strong ‘Comfort’ and other magic things she puts in her washing), and most importantly, a pillow case with a zip she had sewn on – to stop the spiders from crawling in. 

By day, we were off filming some of the most awful things;  mums in hospital struggling with the curse of Aids, children in refugee camps, women who’d been trafficked and violated in the worst sexual ways you can imagine.    

And at night, when I’d get back to my lodge or motel, and collapse on the bed and try to process what I’d just seen, there was that smell of Comfort, of home, of my mum.

And THAT is what my ma is like.   

She is a homemaker, through and through.  That is what she always wanted to be.   She lost her own mum and dad at an early age – she was effectively on her own when she was 16 years old, but she has always tried to create ‘home’ for everyone else. 

 So, when you go to visit mum, you’ll always get a fantastically home-cooked meal, and if you’re fortunate enough to stay over, you’ll get a lovely, plumfy bed, piled high with pillows and squeakily clean sheets and (if you’re me), freshly ironed PJs on the pilliow.

My mum is ‘home’.   She is the first person I run to, when I go through heartache, pain and hassle.  Some years ago, when I was going through a really tough time, all she could say was, ‘Come home to your mum’.  And when I did, I was able to sit on the sofa and vent.  She made me soup, and put extra Comfort in the wash….and later, she even came over to my house and cleaned it from top to bottom.   

She does that a lot – because she shows her love most of all through good food, warm towels, clean sheets and a whole pile of Comfort (the stuff you buy in a bottle, and the stuff that only Mums know about it). 

My mum is ace.

Happy birthday to the mum, who gave me the strength (and sheets!) to keep on going. 

lodge

One of the lodges we stayed in, in Kenya, where mum’s clean sheets made all the difference.

uganda

In Uganda.

The Bible and horoscopes…

Recently, I was skipping through religious TV channels and paused to take a sip of tea, just as a man-with-too-big-hair pointed his bejewelled finger at the camera and said;

‘God’s told me that if you, yes YOU, give to us, then within days…. and I mean, DAYS (repeated for extra spiritual emphasis)…He will heal you, He will turn your finances around, He will restore your family relationships…’.

I gawped for a while in horrified awe, hoping against hope that poor and desperate people wouldn’t fall for it.

Lots of people probably did though and I started to think about why.

We’ve all got problems, situations, silent heartaches, things/people and situations we pray for.  Hands up if you’ve ever anxiously and feverishly scanned a Bible looking for some small snatch of hope, or prayed prayers of desperation; Help me/Stop me/Make me?

I’ll admit, I’ve done it and in addition,  I get 3 or 4 devotions delivered straight to my email each day, along with Bible verse alerts, encouraging Scriptures and inspirational reminders.   I’ve also been guilty of skim-reading those devotionals to check if they contain suitable ‘encouragement’ for whatever I’m facing at the time.  If not, I’ve discarded them as being ‘not for me’ that day.

Smartphones and social media have transformed how we ‘consume’ our spirituality.  In a culture which is all about instant downloads, immediate gratification and  ‘what I want’,   I’m realising it’s also scarily easy to slip  into ‘Me Christianity’;  the kind of belief that is focused *just* on me, and what God wants to do/be/give/bestow upon me.

The thing is, God does often speak to me through random things I hear, or read.  Somedays, a reminder in a devotional has given me bucket-loads of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation, but that’s because God is kind and gracious and merciful.

But I can also treat devotionals and readings and programmes like some kind of divine horoscope….using them to gauge what’s in my ‘stars’ for today.

I don’t want to be that kind of believer.  I want more than that.  I think God wants more from me than that.

So, for the next few weeks at least, I’m packing away my devotionals and I’m taking it back to basics.  The iPad reminders are off, and I’ve unpacked my paper (yes, gasp, horror) hardback Bible and I’m just going to read it.  Not for ‘encouragement’ or ‘strength’ but just because it’s God’s word and I want to read it.

It’s not about ME.

It’s meant to be about Him.

A signed contract

Today, an amazing deal was signed… and I got to be just a teeny part of it.

To explain, a few weeks ago at work, we received an incredibly sad email. It was from a gal I’ll call Janet and she was in a really messy situation.

She wasn’t a Christian but had somehow found herself listening to our station. She’d recently been to a church but had been effectively turned away because her face didn’t fit. The details of the email made my blood run cold – I felt angry that she could be treated so badly. I replied and offered to help her find a church that would accept her.

I didn’t hear any more from her – until today. She’d had an accident and had been in hospital, but she was still curious about Jesus, still searching.

Today was crazy, crazy busy in so many ways, but I knew this was important, so we ended up swopping a lot of emails, where she asked loads of questions. I could only answer from my personal experience….that ultimately, God loves us, is passionate about having a relationship with us and following Him is the toughest life of all, second only to not following Him.

I didn’t know where this was headed, till just after 2.30, in pinged an email which said, ‘I’m sick and sore but I have just knelt and I have repented of my sins and asked Jesus to take over my life’.

I was drinking tea at the time and nearly choked as I shouted out, ‘flip me….she’s gone and done it!’

One of the (many) bonuses to working in a Christian organisation is that you can down tools and pray when you need to, so we did; for Janet, her pain, her situation and overwhelming thankfulness that without much instruction, her heart knew what it wanted; Jesus.

They say the angels rejoice when someone accepts Jesus….I don’t know about them, but I sang LOUDLY in the car all the way home.

I’m still stunned now, hours later when I think that today, I got to witness the signing of a beautiful, perfect contract between a weary soul and her Saviour.

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